Falmouth Council rejects moratorium on multifamily housing

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FALMOUTH — Councilor Claudia King says inconsistencies in the rules governing new housing developments in the town’s growth districts have led to a big increase in the number of two-family and multifamily projects being proposed.

King asked her fellow councilors Monday to consider a moratorium that would temporarily ban such projects until ordinance changes could be made that would mitigate the incentive to build mostly multifamily housing.

“I’m hearing from many people that this is (becoming) very disruptive to their neighborhoods,” she said. “That’s why I think we need a moratorium, at least until we can change the ordinance language to be more in line with our actual intent.”

Although King’s proposal failed, Council Chairman Caleb Hemphill agreed with her. “We’re getting a lot of backlash (from residents) on these new, unexpected, and unfamiliar developments,” he said.

“I understand a moratorium is rather dramatic, but this has become a very important issue and caused quite a stir,” Hemphill added. “I don’t believe we fully appreciated the consequences” of approving density bonuses in the growth districts.

But Councilor Aaron Svedlow pointed out that a lot of work had gone into making the ordinance changes that created the growth districts, and said it was clearly the intent of the council to encourage more diversity in housing types.

And, he said, two-family and multifamily units “are more equitable in terms of housing costs and are more environmentally friendly, which is what we said we wanted.”

King responded, “I don’t think anyone is against more diverse forms of housing for different life stages and economic groupings, but the way the ordinances are currently written is messing that up.”

In a memo provided to the Town Council in support of her request for a moratorium, King argued that “the strong preference” in the ordinances is for multifamily housing “to the exclusion of other development types.”

“The proportion and number (of multifamily projects) was not foreseen and was not intended,” King added.

Amanda Stearns, Falmouth’s community development director, confirmed Monday that the Planning Board is reviewing several proposals for new housing projects that include both two-family and multifamily units.

And the Town Council will soon take up a formal review of a contract zone for West Falmouth that would request approval of 151 new housing units, which includes several apartment buildings.

Even so, King could not get a majority of councilors to support the proposed moratorium.

Councilor Andy Jones may have summed up the feeling best when he said, “It sounds like we opened the door too wide, but a moratorium would close the door completely and I don’t like the sound of that.”

In the end, the council asked Hemphill and Svedlow to meet with Stearns to come up with proposed ordinance amendments designed to address the issue, which would then come back to the full council for review and approval.

Councilor Karen Farber said the council’s goal is to “ensure that single-family and multifamily (housing) is treated the same” way in all the zoning districts in town.

Kate Irish Collins can be reached at 710-2336 or kcollins@theforecaster.net. Follow Kate on Twitter: @KIrishCollins.

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